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Limiters vs. compressors for final mix

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Ok, I have 2 nice free VST plugins: George Yohng's W1 Limiter VST Endorphin Mainly, I'm looking to get a very loud output, for that professionally-mastered sound. I've been doing pretty well using Endorphin by just pushing it as far as it can go before the sound deteriorates, but I found this limiter online recently and am interested in whether it can help too. The L1 is recommended by some professionals so I figured that a software emulation of it might also be a good idea. If I just combine the 2 (limiter first, then compressor) it doesn't seem to make much difference, but then I've no idea if I'm on the right track or not.

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"Loudness" isn't really the hallmark of good mastering, it's a hallmark of modern shot-to-hell mastering. For getting your mix a bit louder (don't shoot for like, 12dB or something), you'll need a good, transparant limiter. Experiment with your free ones, trying extreme settings first, to see what kind of garbage you get once the limiter is working too hard, and at what level you get it.
Pick the more transparant one you have.

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Yeah, I'm aware of how an overcompressed mix can ruin the sound and so on. But on the other hand a mix that is too quiet and without any extra polishing at the mastering stage is going to sound lacking when put next to something which was professionally mastered. Mainly that's my goal; if it sounds weak when I play it just after I play a song recorded in a real studio, fix it.

The limiter seems to be doing a reasonable job... I have its threshold set to -1.0dB with a gain of 1.0dB and that doesn't seem to do any damage. After that comes the compressor which again is on pretty mild settings (something like a 2 to 3db boost overall, to a non-linearly compressed input), at least relative to what it is capable of.

I'm reasonably happy with the output, except for the lack of high-end which I don't think I can do much about without using a proper drummer rather than cheap samples - programmed cymbals tend to stick out more than anything else so I can't have them cutting through the mix as much as I would like, and nothing else really fills that space.

PS. There's no way I'll be trying Ozone I'm afraid. I have no budget whatsoever.

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Compressor BEFORE limiter, please ;)
The limiter is the last thing in the chain - it also makes sure you don't get any nasty clipping (limit to, for example, -3dB, and use only 2.7dB make-up gain).

Use the limiter for that last bit of oomph, those nasty high peaks that are keeping you from pumping your average volume up.

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I dont want to be a "definition jerk", but:

Isnt a limiter a compressor with ratio set to infinity?

My advice, use a compressor like a soft limiter (not infinite compression).
If you are talking about an expander, its something else...

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Quote:
Original post by uncutno
I dont want to be a "definition jerk", but:

Isnt a limiter a compressor with ratio set to infinity?

My advice, use a compressor like a soft limiter (not infinite compression).
If you are talking about an expander, its something else...


Somewhat, a limiter is a brick-wall compressor - no attack (it should work instantaneously, letting no signal over the threshold pass), high or even infinite ratio (the signal over the threshold is clipped to the threshold), and a very short (or no) release time: once the signal drops back under the threshold, it should stop limiting as soon as possible.

The reason you need one (and usually a very good one) to pump your mix is because you'll have very short transient peaks in the material that may be wildly more powerful than the average level of your material. Normalisation will only work to these peaks, so you're left with a weak mix. If you limit these peaks, chopping a small amount of transients down by whatever you think sounds good, you may be able to raise your average level by as much as 6dB (or a doubling of perceived volume) without affecting your actual mix audibly, at all.

You don't want to soft-limit this stuff, because you don't want ANY of it in your material. Soft limiting and compression is for when you have significant portions of the material going over a desired threshhold (like, the slap bass in the chorus is a lot louder than the finger bass in the verse, or the singer isn't very consistent in the volume of his performance), or when you're actually trying to change your mix creatively.

In mastering, you shouldn't be trying to change the mix creatively - you should be trying to make the existing mix sound the best it can.

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If you want to push the volume without clipping, you'll have to do better than using a compressor. At least none of the simpler compressors can manage peaks properly and you'll get global volume fluctuations. You need a professional volume pusher/maximizer that can handle peaks much better (a prediction system) than a compressor.

Consider doing the mastering stage of your track in a studio - if there's someone inside you know, you can probably even get in free.

PS - I have a couple of people I know and I can get a few hours of studio time every week or so (well, whenever there's no one around, which is usually for a couple of hours every week), so I could possibly spend some time trying to tweak your track if you're in real trouble - that way you won't really get what you want, I'm afraid, though, but I'm sure I could balance out your track a little in the least. PM me if you're interested.

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Here are some points I want to add:

0) I'm assuming you want the "radio sound", which means adding limiting/compression in mastering, like it or not.

1) A limiter is like a very fast brick-wall compressor. You want to not make the release TOO fast, because that can create transients; you also want it to have a little bit of a knee to avoid that harsh, digital-limited sound.

2) You want to put the limiter after the compressor, as has already been said.

3) You want to use a spectral compressor. This is a compressor which divides the sound into several frequency bands, and compresses them each individually, with individual settings. Typically with higher bands are also side-chained to the lower bands.

4) Try using a soft distortion function instead of a limiter. x=A*x-B*x^3 is a good function, especially if you tweak it to get to 1.0 right when it folds back down on itself. You can jam +6 dB into this without digital clipping, but it will start distorting the sound before that point. Depending on material, this can be great, or sound like trash. (I think A = 3/2 and B = 1/2 is the optimal point)

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Thanks for the continuing advice, everybody.

Putting the limiter after the compressor sounds sensible in general but what if the compressor is guaranteed not to output anything above 0dB? I had been using the limiter to smooth off any errant peaks, allowing a bit of a gain increase before boosting the whole lot with the compressor. Doing it the other way around seems to be better in theory but sounds slightly less effective in practice. (Perhaps because my music contains a lot of distortion anyway.)

The compressor I linked to is a two-band one, which is pretty good for what I'm doing. More bands would be great, but again I stress that I'm on a budget.

As for actual studio time, it's not worth the hassle at this stage, but that's ok as this is not a professional project (yet) and I am enjoying the learning process at home.

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